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Global Carbon Emissions Reached Record High in 2018

Energy
Global Carbon Emissions Reached Record High in 2018
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Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high in 2018, the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) found. Emissions rose 1.7 percent to reach a historic 33.1 gigatons (Gt) of carbon dioxide. It was the highest rate of emissions growth since 2013 and 70 percent higher than the average increase since 2010.


The record emissions were caused by increasing energy demand due partly to a growing economy. Ironically, climate change also played a role in sending more global warming gasses into the atmosphere. That is because nearly a fifth of the increased energy demand was driven by extreme cold and hot temperatures around the world that led people to rely more on heating and cooling systems.

"It seems like a vicious cycle," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol told The Financial Times. "Heating and cooling are one of the biggest drivers of energy demand growth."

Overall, energy consumption increased by 2.3 percent, almost two times the average growth rate since 2010. While renewable energy grew, it did not grow fast enough to meet the increased demand. Nearly 70 percent of the growth was met by fossil fuels.

"[D]espite major growth in renewables, global emissions are still rising, demonstrating once again that more urgent action is needed on all fronts," Birol said, according to Reuters.


One of the most alarming findings was the persistent use of coal, the report found:

In fact, coal-fired power plants were the single largest contributor to the growth in emissions observed in 2018, with an increase of 2.9%, or 280 Mt, compared with 2017 levels, exceeding 10 Gt for the first time.

Further, the IEA calculated the contribution of fossil fuels to global temperature increases for the first time and found that coal had been responsible for more than 0.3 degrees Celsius of the one degree Celsius rise in global temperatures since pre-industrial times, making it the fuel that has most contributed to global warming.


"We are in deep trouble," Stanford University Earth System Science Prof. Rob Jackson told The Washington Post of the report. "The climate consequences are catastrophic. I don't use any word like that very often. But we are headed for disaster, and nobody seems to be able to slow things down."

The rise in coal use was mostly driven by newer coal plants in Asia. These plants average 12 years old compared to a typical life-span for coal plants of 40 years. However, the U.S. saw the greatest increase in demand for oil and natural gas compared to the rest of the world.

In general, the U.S., China and India were the leaders both in terms of energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions. The three countries accounted for almost 70 percent of the increased energy demand and contributed 85 percent to the rise in emissions. India's emissions rose by 4.8 percent and China's by 2.5 percent. In the U.S. emissions rose by 3.1 percent despite decreasing the year before. Emissions fell in Germany, Japan, Mexico, France and the United Kingdom.

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An illustration depicts the extinct woolly rhino. Heinrich Harder / Wikimedia Commons

The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.

The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."

The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.

To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

A large patch of leaked oil and the vessel MV Wakashio near Blue Bay Marine Park off the coast of southeast Mauritius on Aug. 6, 2020. AFP via Getty Images

The environmental disaster that Mauritius is facing is starting to appear as its pristine waters turn black, its fish wash up dead, and its sea birds are unable to take flight, as they are limp under the weight of the fuel covering them. For all the damage to the centuries-old coral that surrounds the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, scientists are realizing that the damage could have been much worse and there are broad lessons for the shipping industry, according to Al Jazeera.

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A quality engineer examines new solar panels in a factory. alvarez / Getty Images

Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.

For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.

"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."

To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.

"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."

So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

The frozen meat section at a supermarket in Hong Kong, China, in February. Chukrut Budrul / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

Imported frozen food in three Chinese cities has tested positive for the new coronavirus, but public health experts say you still shouldn't worry too much about catching the virus from food or packaging.

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Although heat waves rarely get the attention that hurricanes do, they kill far more people per year in the U.S. and abroad. greenaperture / Getty Images

By Jeff Berardelli

Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020

If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.

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